The Appraiser’s Brain

Recently, I have been educating myself on the brain and how it works.  It is amazing the developments we have had in neurology and social sciences in just the past few years!  What we are learning is fascinating, but we are also beginning to realize two things; first, what we thought we knew is not right and second, we have so much more to learn.  Memory, psychology, and cognitive functioning are deep subjects.


appraiser workfileOne of the more interesting items I have learned about is how the brain processes information (through preconceived paradigms) and how we often make the story into something we want it to be (despite the accuracy).  I am not talking about lying, embellishment, or even gilding the lily here.  Rather, we see what we want to see (and most of this happens below the surface at an unconscious level).  The quintessential example is that of a car crash with three eye witnesses.  No matter the angle, each will see the same event differently (sometimes, significantly). One of the reasons an investigating officer will separate the witnesses is that we often allow another’s testimony to influence our own.  Have you ever had the experience an adult sibling telling you about an event from their childhood only to realize they were not even born when it happened?  That sibling has no idea they are telling a falsehood.  They have heard so many stories about the experience over the years, that their brain has told them they were there. As Albert Einstein stated, “Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.”


Another interesting field of study is how we ‘remember’ things.  To state it bluntly, our memory sucks.  Events change minutes, hours, and days after the fact.  What we see today is not what we remember tomorrow.  Professional historians recognize that history is not so much about what actually happened as much as it is a study about the person who wrote about what actually happened.  Keep that in mind next time you are reading an auto-biography.


What is the take-away for appraisers?  How does the understanding of how the human brain functions help us as real estate professionals?  Most of us do inspections and then later sit down to do the write up.  How often do we unconsciously remember (or misremember) what the house was REALLY like?  How often are we called upon days, months, or years later to recall what we did and why we did it on a particular appraisal report?  I have a hard time remembering what I had for breakfast, much less an inspection or comp selection process last week.  


What is the moral of the story?  Keep good records.  Do not ever get in the habit of thinking ‘no one sees my work file anyway.’  If nothing else, YOU may want to someday.  Make sure it is impeccable.        

7 thoughts on “The Appraiser’s Brain”

  1. Dustin wrote: “To state it bluntly, our memory sucks. I have a hard time remembering what I had for breakfast, much less an inspection or comp selection process last week.”

    Just because YOU have a crappy memory, feel free and NOT generalize to those of us that can remember nearly EVERY appraisal we have completed years after the fact when getting a new appraisal request for that sane property.

    And if you are having to remember details about an inspection “months or years” after the fact that likely means your report had been deemed less than credible by either a lender, GSE or licensing review board.

    After 40 years in the business and well over 15,000 completed appraisal reports, I have been requested to provide this sort of information “months or years after the fact” EXACTLY zero times…

  2. That comment is helpful to EXACTLY zero people. Maybe some of that appraisal memory should go toward remembering how to spell, and how to politely conduct yourself in social interactions.

  3. Good stuff Dustin. Years ago, I saw an episode of Scientific American that opened my eyes. They did an experiment with host Alan Alda and had him watch actors act out a scene. After he watched the scene live, they had him look at what he thought were photos of the scene, but they were actually photos of the same actors doing different things. Then they tested him on what he saw. The pictures that they showed him after became his actual memories. This shows us how easily our memories are changed and it makes me question my own memories.

  4. My wife finds it amazing I can remember comparables from twenty years ago and forget the milk she asked me pick up on the way home fifteen minutes ago.

  5. Some would say appraisers and brains are mutually exclusive.

    Anyway, agree 100% Dustin. Im big on notes and NOT eNotes! Also do not rely on inter AMC-Appraiser system ‘texts’ or notes. They are not in original fonts and can run conversation strings together making it unclear which were added comment sand which were originals. I’m working a case like that right now. Fortunately original emails were retained from which inter-AMC coms were cut and pasted. Those emails were in multiple style and color fonts with names of authors in each segment. Names that were deleted in AMC data.

    My memory of events APPEARS to be better for 20 years than I suspect it actually is. Its like reading a report as soon as written. The mind sees what it THOUGHT we wrote and not necessarily what we actually wrote. Read the report a day later and errors light up like neon signs. Similarly, long term memory tends to fill in gaps, I suspect.

    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

  6. I’m well aware of memory issues. In 2005 I cut a deer half of the motorcycle and ended up in a coma. I’ve completed over 10,000 appraisals in my career and that happened somewhere around 6500. I had to rebuild my practice and conduct appraisal silence with an abbreviated memory as a result of the coma. I’ve always had a “the glass is always half full” perspective on life. I replaced memorized procedures with habits, like taking all of the subject property photos in the same order every time and making any pertinent notes, as well as completing page 1 of the form completely, including descriptive text at the time of inspection, backed up by digitally recorded photo logs and custom text to be imported into the report later. If you can’t get around or over the wall, just to the tunnel under it. Jim

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